Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Sorry, this won't be about personal research or experience. This is just a transcript from a recent NPR broadcast. It provides substantive evidence that volcanoes are cool, and that women who study them are totally bada$$. First, here is some cool stuff from Kayla's blog, on

P.S. Love Science Friday.


Up next, ending the year at the end of the Earth, or the bottom, if you prefer. Live on the line with us is a scientist who is atop one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mount Erebus, located in Antarctica, right near the main American research station, McMurdo.

Kayla Iacovino is a Ph.D student at Cambridge. She's studying vulcanology and petrology, and she's been sharing her experiences at Mount Erebus on her blog, right there at If you want to see some fantastic panoramic pictures she's been sending, please surf over to our website at

Happy New Year to you, Kayla.

Ms. KAYLA IACOVINO (Student, University of Cambridge): Happy New Year to you.

FLATOW: It's already New Year's there, isn't it?

Ms. IACOVINO: It is, yes. I'm talking to you from the future.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Tell us what you're - you're up at Mount Erebus, and you can look down into the volcano.

Ms. IACOVINO: That's right, yeah. It's just a short Skidoo trip up to the side of the crater and then just a short walk up to the crater rim. And what's great about Mount Erebus, it's one of the only three volcanoes in the world with an active lava lake.

So it means that we can literally stand on the crater rim and see right into the top of the magma conduit, which means we can take some direct measurements that you can't do at most other volcanoes.

FLATOW: And I remember from being in Antarctica, down there in 1979, many years ago, every day you would see a puff of steam or smoke coming out of that volcano. It's really very active, as you say.

Ms. IACOVINO: Yeah, that's right. And one of the things that makes it so appealing to researchers is that it is active. But it's diffusive, and so it's letting off these puffs of steam that you see all the time, which makes it less dangerous, relatively, as far as volcanoes.

FLATOW: It's letting off steam, so to speak.

Ms. IACOVINO: Yeah, exactly. So it's not building up this pressure that can cause huge explosions.

FLATOW: And what do you expect to learn from your studies at the volcano?

Ms. IACOVINO: Well, there's a whole group of us studying all different kinds of aspects of the volcano. Many of us are taking, like I said, direct measurements (technical difficulties) gas emissions, the heat flux in the volcano.

But what I'm studying is the stuff that you actually can't see, which is the stuff, the magma that's several kilometers below the surface. So what I hope to learn is how things like CO2 and H2O and sulfur interact with these magmas very deep in the earth and what happens between there and the surface.

So - and I can do experiments in the lab at home. I can create a model for how these things will also interact with the magma, and then we can learn about how volcanoes (unintelligible) gases such as CO2. And also how they will explode, whether they'll be very violent eruptions or effusive eruptions.

FLATOW: Kayla, if there was a danger of that exploding, could you get out of the way in time?

Ms. LACOVINO: Well, it does do something called - there were volcanic bombs sometimes, which are basically giant slugs of magma. It's been somewhat inactive this year, but it has had a couple of bomb-throwing eruptions. And what you do when that happens is literally - if you hear a boom, you literally stop, look up, and you know, make sure you're aware. And in case any of the bombs do make it out of the crater, then you can step out of the way. But that's about as dangerous as it gets, and it has happened. But no one has been hurt here so far.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And how long will you stay up there in - you're living in sort of a tent situation?

Ms. LACOVINO: Yeah. We have a camp with tents, but we also have a permanent structure called the Lower Erebus Hut. So we have, you know, a stove, and it's heated, and we also have Internet in there as well. So we're pretty well-connected in the hut.

FLATOW: And you'll be...

Ms. LACOVINO: I'm here...

FLATOW: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Ms. LACOVINO: I'll be here for, you know, just a few more days, actually. We're coming up to the end of the season here in Erebus.

FLATOW: And I'll bet it's a lifetime experience.

Ms. LACOVINO: Well, it's been absolute (technical difficulty)...

FLATOW: I think we lost her. Did we lose you, Kayla? I think we - well, we had a connection longer than I had hoped for. I mean, we were talking to Kayla Lacovino at Mount Erebus, which is this giant volcano. It's like 12,000, 14,000 feet up in Antarctica, and a satellite phones. So it was longer than I had hoped that we'd have a connection, so I want to thank Kayla.

She has - she's a PhD student at Cambridge University, and she sent back some incredible photos of her work at SCIENCE FRIDAY's blog at, panoramic views of looking down into the lava. You can see the red lava and all kinds of stuff. So if you want a treat in seeing what she's been sending back to us, surf over to our website. It's